How the Arts Take DEI to the Next Level

This past weekend, I attended a statewide arts conference. Like most creatives, I spent the majority of the past two years in professional isolation, trying to make the best of the situation but ultimately falling short because the arts are collaborative. We collaborate with each other, we make music with each other, and we share that creative energy with the audience during performances.

Needless to say, being a part of the conference was cathartic and meaningful for many, including myself. That feeling of belonging that the arts create has been missing for the artists themselves, the very people who build that culture for others. We are finding our community again, after being torn apart. Many of our colleagues are not here, having left the industry to embrace a more secure means of financial support. No one blames them. There is no shame in providing for yourself and your family, but they are missed. Those of us remaining are the ones who have to create to breathe, to feel like ourselves, and for our souls to thrive.

We ache with loss as we tentatively embrace inspiration and rise to the call to create again in community. For me, music has become like a bad boyfriend. Do I trust it now, after being betrayed so often with cancellation after cancellation? My heart is broken. Our hearts are broken. We are healing; we are mending, together.

The arts have always led the way in areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion, but I was struck by how much that diversity was celebrated at the conference. Diversity was lifted up through the poems written and read by those will disabilities, in the performances of minority groups, and in the topics, discussions, and interests of those presenting and attending. We're acknowledging that we can do better, and celebrating the process of growth.

I met the Dean of Fine Arts of a university who has led the way in diversity in higher education employment in the state, a local autistic artist whose self-esteem soared when the Library of Congress featured one of his works, and a Chautauqua performance artist who's part of a group relaying the stories of women pioneers of varying ethnicities. No one was aloof or pompous or righteous. No one was a stranger.

As arts communities around the world rise up as the pandemic wanes, expect to see more connection, imagination, and celebration of our humanity. The arts can help to drag us out of the darkness, fear, and tribalism of the past few years if we let them. They can help us heal and remind us how to trust again, just as they did for me in a weekend.

The arts aren't elitist, or at least they shouldn't be. They're there for all of us, a celebration of the complexities and harmonies within our humanity.

Dr. Nancy Williams is a musician, educator, author, composer/arranger, and leadership coach whose mission is to inspire awareness and empowerment so that others can be agents of positive change in the world. Join her mailing list to receive weekly emails of inspiration and leadership tips and receive the free worksheet 5 Steps to Overcome Overwhelm.


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